The Zadie Project does business for goodBy Jenna Ovett
In today’s competitive business environment, companies are looking for more ways to give back, helping them attract socially conscious consumers and employees. Some are looking to acquire nonprofit organizations, while others are creating their own. Of course, this innovative 21st-century approach to giving back, pioneered by a new wave of social entrepreneurs, is not only good for business, but for community causes.
That’s why business owner Jenny Levison created The Zadie Project as a 501(c)(3) spinoff of her socially conscious Souper Jenny cafes. For more than 18 years, Souper Jenny has been committed to serving food that nourishes the mind, body, and spirit. Since day one, Levison has incorporated philanthropic endeavors into the company culture, and The Zadie Project is her way of cementing that support. Named after Jenny’s father, the family cook, Levison notes that the name Zadie means “grandfather” in Yiddish, evoking the lasting legacy of social responsibility she intends to create.
Established in December 2016, The Zadie Project aims to support other nonprofits with donations of soup and fresh produce grown on their own farm, and to provide farm tours and classes that educate the public about healthy food and where it comes from. In addition, Levison sees the Project as a way to keep up already-high employee morale and customer satisfaction. Now, after just four months in existence, the Project is providing several benefits to Atlanta’s local communities, including helping to improve access to fresh, healthy food for all.
When Levison first conceived of the Project, she had little knowledge of what it takes to start and run a nonprofit. She quickly realized that she needed to craft an initiative that could be supported by the Souper Jenny cafes and carried out in collaboration with other nonprofits. Not only would this make the work more sustainable, it would also make it easier to take immediate action.
The first part of the Project was the “bowl-for-a-bowl” initiative: For every bowl of turkey chili sold at any of the four Souper Jenny locations, The Zadie Project donates a bowl of soup to children and families in need. Why turkey chili? It is not only their most popular dish, but it packs a powerful nutritious punch and is a common “comfort food” that service populations find familiar and satisfying. Over time, and with the warming of the seasons, they plan to expand meal choices to include other staples like salads and sandwiches. Currently, Souper Jenny donates 300 quarts of soup weekly through The Zadie Project, providing 600 meals for the clients of several Atlanta-area nonprofits focusing on youth and families.
The second part of the Project was building and opening the Souper Farm, set up on the site of Souper Jenny’s Westside location, which has long been an underserved “food desert.” Produce grown at the farm is already being used in meals donated through The Zadie Project, and soon the grounds will serve as an educational center. Free classes will be made available to residents of the surrounding communities, including a “Learn-Help-Harvest” workshop teaching families the value of whole foods and the practices of sustainable living, demonstrating the fact that growing food at home is not only healthier than fast food, it is just as affordable.
While mission impact is certainly at the top of Levison’s priorities, she also sees The Zadie Project as a way to boost both employee morale and customer satisfaction. Because everyday tasks at the cafe are intertwined with the donation process, the Souper Jenny staff is directly involved with the mission of the Project, giving their workday an extra sense of purpose. While the company has historically had very little turnover (a huge feat for the restaurant industry), Levison anticipates their retention rates will go higher still. Souper Jenny customers also love the easy opportunity to give back and take part in the mission—a simple lunch-time transaction that tastes good and does good.
With the odds stacked favorably for growth, Levison believes The Zadie Project will ultimately deliver 1000 quarts weekly, providing 2000 meals to those in need. The Project is constantly looking out for more organizations, including schools and other institutions, which could benefit from their services. Anyone who’d like to suggest a new partner should send a note to Jenny at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also get involved by attending the Souper Jenny Cabaret in May, “an evening of feast and fantastic song” directly benefitting the Project.
Jenna Ovett is the communications coordinator at GCN.